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Worship Theme: Victorious Joy

Sermon Theme: God Has Come Down to Us

What is “Victorious Joy” and how do we get it? Based on Acts 14:8-22, let’s watch today and see what God does to make that happen. “God has come down to us.” May 29, 2022.

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There were no paved roads back then, no sidewalks. So, the lame man of Lystra had a daily reminder of “Dust you are and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:19). Dust coated his sandals, covered his gnarled feet, caked on his ankles, dust on his robe, in his hair, in his beard, and on his bony fingers extended for a hoped-for hand-out. What joy is there in that? The apostle Paul got up close and personal with dirt and dust, too, grated into his palms and knees as bad guys stoned [him] and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead. What joy is there in that? “Victorious Joy” is our worship theme today, but what really is it, and how do we get it? Let’s watch today and see what God does to make that happen. “God has come down to us.”

 He gets our attention

What will it take for God to get our attention? “Whoa! Wait a minute, pastor! We’re Bible-totin’, church-goin’ people! Are you insinuating that we’re not paying attention to God?” No! I know you are committed to your Lord and would never dream of doing something on purpose contrary to his Word and will. I just know what I’m like. I know that I’m lugging around this extra baggage called a sinful nature which I can’t get rid of. It makes me take God for granted once in a while. It diverts my attention. It puts blinders on me so I don’t see the possibilities for spiritual growth and greater service. It makes me say, “What more do you want, Lord? You know all things. You know that I’m giving you all the time and energy and money and prayer I can!” Then all of a sudden God allows something to happen, usually when I least expect it, and just like that God’s got my undivided attention. Has that ever happened to you?

It happened to a man in Lystra who was lame. He had been that way from birth and had never walked. Luke, the author of this Bible book, was a traveling companion of the apostle Paul, a physician by trade, with an eye for and an understanding of life’s problems and troubles. He piles up the phrases, a man who was lame … had been that way from birth … had never walked to make it absolutely clear that this man was beyond human help. Where else could he turn but to God? We don’t know whether this man had heard about the true God. It’s likely that he hadn’t. I think it’s safe to assume that his only hope was the dim and faint knowledge which all humans have that there is some sort of Higher Power out there. He must have been wondering, “If there is a Supreme Being, why does he seem so far away? If only there would be a way for that Higher Power to come down to give me help!” Can’t you picture this man sitting in the town square, listening to any sort of religious teacher who came to town, hoping to grab onto a nugget of truth? God had gotten this man’s attention.

There were, of course, other folks living in Lystra. For the majority life went on day after day, business as usual. Lystra was no metropolis. It wasn’t known for commerce or trade. It wasn’t the capital of the region. It was a typical little town, built on a hill, with a river running through a nearby valley, good pastureland for local sheep farmers, home to a few educated and wealthy land owners, and an outpost for a squadron of Roman soldiers. Like any town in America, most of the citizens of Lystra went about their daily routines without giving much thought about a Supreme Being or a Higher Power. But the God of all grace wanted to pour out his forgiving love to those people. First, he had to get their attention. He did it in a most unusual way. Paul looked directly at the man ... and called out [actually shouted], “Stand up on your feet!” At that, the man jumped up and began to walk.” The townspeople witnessed a miracle. God had their attention.

What will it take for God to get our attention? He may not do that in as dramatic a way as healing a long-term crippling disease or in as devastating a way as a funeral or in as surprising a way as a miracle. But he will get our attention. If you have ever experienced long-term illness, or faced surgery, or watched someone you care about suffer, or hit the pits in any way, or experienced persecution like the people described by or guest speaker at our Ascension Missions Event last Thursday, you may have wondered, “What is God trying to tell me?” For one thing, recognize that when bad stuff happens, God has your attention, and when he does, praise him because he wants us to grasp the big picture instead of burying our noses in our problems …

He broadens our vision

… like the people of Lystra, who had a very narrow view of God. All they had were wood statues, worthless idols, and whimsical stories like the one told by the Roman poet Ovid in his book Metamorphoses which included the legend about the Greek gods, Zeus and Hermes, coming to a village not far from Lystra and visiting the home of a couple who weren’t sharp enough to realize they were entertaining the gods. So, when the crowd saw what Paul had done, they (reverted to their native tongue instead of speaking Greek and) shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!” Barnabas, they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes [the messenger god] because he was the chief speaker.” The crowd even wanted to offer sacrifices to them.

God had their attention. Then, he used Paul and Barnabas to broaden their vision, to see the big picture. “Friends, why are you doing this? We too are only human like you. We’re not gods. But we are bringing you good news, the best news you could ever hear. It’s news about that Supreme Being you know exists. It’s news about that Higher Power whom you picture as sitting on a distant mountain. He’s not far away. He’s no weakling. He doesn’t need extra gods to get the job done. He’s not dead and buried in some moldy poetry book. He’s the living God, and he has come down to you with evidence that he alone is God and that he has exclusive rights to your souls. Just look around. Do you see heaven and earth and sea and everything in them? He made them. And guess where the rain and seasons and crops come from? You got it! The true God is so big and so wonderful that he controls the forces of nature and fills your hearts and tummies with joy. He has come down with power and wisdom to remain active in every facet of your lives.” If the apostles had stopped right there, the account would have probably continued with a description of the people of Lystra shriveling up in fear, “God is too big and powerful. How can we stand before him?” In reality God was using the things that go beyond explanation and even using scary stuff to broaden their vision so they could grasp the big picture and see how awesome he really is.

The single person wanted to know, “Why hasn’t God allowed me to meet someone and someday get married?” Only later did she realize that her single status allowed her the flexibility of schedule to bring Christ Jesus into the lives of several friends. A young mother had it right when she said, “I never realized the importance of spiritual strength until waiting for surgery to be completed on my child.” An older person wondered, “Why has God kept me on earth with all my aches and pains when my forty-five-year-old neighbor died of cancer?” Only later did he learn that his example of quiet confidence in Jesus led a nurse and a physical therapist into the Scriptures and into the arms of Savior. When God gets our attention and broadens our vision, we would shrink back in fear if not for the best part of the good news about the living God.

He personalizes our rescue

The lame man of Lystra heard it. He listened to Paul. What do you think Paul was proclaiming? The relative merits of the latest candidates for emperor? The soaring inflation rate in the empire? The reasons for shootings and social unrest in big cities like Alexandria, Corinth, and Rome? No! Paul preached Christ crucified. Paul preached Christ risen. No wonder this man believed that he could be healed. “If Jesus can forgive a sinner like me and give me heaven, he can surely fix my feet. But even if he doesn’t fix my feet, I know my soul is healed.” That’s what the lame man was thinking. Do you see what happened? The great and awesome God who made heaven and earth came to personalize that man’s rescue. Through the apostle’s message God looked right at this man and said, “You are mine!”

I know that some of you have at one time or another taken your passport and crossed the border into Illinois to visit Chicago. It’s hard to beat that city’s dramatic observation decks like Skydeck Chicago on the one hundred third floor of the Willis Tower with its glass-floored observation box one thousand three hundred fifty-three feet above the street. God sees all that. Or 360 Chicago ninety-four floors up on the John Hancock building with stadium-style seating to see out over Lake Michigan and the sprawling city. God sees all that. You can Google a satellite image of the planet and zoom into your own backyard. God sees all that.

But never forget that while God sees all, at the same time he sees each and every one of us, personally and individually. He has come down to us not in a whirlwind or fireball but in human form like ours to walk the paths and streets of this planet, to experience our woes and wants, to empathize with our hurt and loneliness, to take our faults and failings from our conscience up onto his shoulders stretched on timber, to pay to God what each of us should pay. He has come to personalize our rescue. It’s not like an EMT calling from a distance at a flipped school bus, “Any kids still in there, come on out!” No! He got on his knees in Gethsemane and allowed himself to be hoisted on a pole on Golgotha, crawling into the flipped bus of our lives to cut us out of crumpled seats and haul us out from the flames of hell to the fresh air of heaven. That is true, and remains especially true, when life’s troubles inundate us, and we feel like we’re going down for the third time. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead. But after the disciples had gathered around him, he got up and went back into the city. The next day he and Barnabas left for Derbe. They preached the gospel in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra (the very site of their troubles), Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said.

God has come down to us. Because that’s true, even though we are mere piles of dust, we will go up to him. And in that truth, we have victorious joy. Amen.

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